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Carrie Pilon, Democratic challenger to Jeff Brandes, withdraws from state Senate race

Carrie Pilon, the Democrat trial attorney challenging incumbent Republican Jeff Brandes in a battleground state Senate district, has withdrawn from the race.

Citing serious and unexpected health problems of a close family member, Pilon said, in a statement first provided to Florida Politics, that it is “impossible for me to continue forward and give the campaign the attention that it deserves.”

The first sign that something was amiss with Pilon’s campaign came last week, when the most recent campaign finance reports showed that Pilon’s fundraising efforts had dramatically trailed off. That report showed just $6,730 in hard money fundraising.

This led to speculation at last weekend’s annual gathering of Florida Democrats that Pilon was on the verge of exiting the race.

Democrat insiders attempted to persuade Pilon to stay in the race, although many were unaware of the personal issues affecting Pilon’s ability to engage in the campaign fully.

Polling has consistently shown SD 24 is winnable for a Democratic candidate. A recent survey conducted by St. Pete Polls put Pilon within five points of Brandes.

Pilon’s campaign got off to an inauspicious start.

Shortly after she made her announcement launching her campaign, Brandes touted the endorsement of Pilon’s father-in-law, Ray Pilon, a former state Representative who is seeking to return to the Legislature.

Asked by Zac Anderson of the Sarasota Herald-Tribune if he wanted to elaborate on his decision to back Brandes publicly over his daughter-in-law, Pilon noted in a text message that as a member of the Republican Party of Sarasota’s executive committee he is prohibited from endorsing a Democrat. But that did not mean he had to support Brandes. He could have stayed quiet about the race.

Still, Pilon would go on to earn her own endorsements, mostly from other Democrats. She also raised $150,000 for her bid, no easy feat against an incumbent lawmaker.

Democrats were hopeful that in this election cycle, with its record number of women candidates, that Pilon could put SD 24 in their column.

Because she has withdrawn after the candidate qualifying period, the Democratic Party will select a replacement for Pilon. According to her campaign, the party has already identified several potential candidates.

The Democrats may end up fielding a candidate, but it’s likely that Pilon was their best bet. She was just the kind of candidate — smart enough to hold her own against the wonky Brandes, but unknown enough not to have too many negatives for his campaign to exploit — who could have given the Republican a real run.

“As a daughter of an elderly dad, I am keenly aware of what Carrie’s family is going through,” said state Sen. Audrey Gibson, the Senate Democratic Leader-designate. “Her struggle is all too familiar to thousands of families across our state, and we must do a better job of helping them.

“The Democratic Caucus of the Florida Senate was attracted to Carrie as a candidate because she has been a leader in her local community and knows how to solve problems,” Gibson added. “I have no doubt she will continue to serve her community and make Florida better. Our thanks to Carrie for carrying the mantle thus far.”

Florida Democrats’ ambition of flipping the state Senate probably ends with Pilon’s withdrawal.

Senate Democrats are also faced with the conundrum of how to fund the slate of challengers they have recruited as part of a broader effort to win control of the Chamber. The Dems have quality candidates in four other races (versus Republicans Keith Perry, Kelli Stargel, Dana Young and Ed Hooper), but probably only have the money to fund two or three full-fledged state Senate campaigns.

While Pilon’s supporters and the Democrats may be disappointed in her decision to withdraw from the race, there is one community undoubtedly relieved by it: the staff and families of the students at Lutheran Church of the Cross Day School. Both Pilon and Brandes (along with this writer) send their children to the well-regarded private school. Having two parents running against each other had already become an awkward topic on social media.

Pilon’s departure from the race heads off the possibility of any heated political debates on the school’s playgrounds or in the student pickup line.

Here is Pilon’s full statement:

“I want to thank all of my supporters and volunteers, who made this campaign special. This campaign would not be where it is today without all of you, and I will always be grateful for your support.

“It is only after much thoughtful contemplation and family consultation that I must say, with a heavy heart, that I am withdrawing from this race for personal reasons. Out of respect for the privacy of our family, I do not wish to go into great detail about these circumstances.

“However, I can say that a close family member is experiencing some serious and unexpected health problems. These health issues, unfortunately, have made it impossible for me to continue forward and give the campaign the attention that it deserves, while also being able to provide the support my family needs.

“We still have a full slate of strong Democrats up and down the ticket, and across the state, who will bring desperately needed change to Tallahassee.

“Until we change the makeup of the state Legislature, Tallahassee will continue to ignore the needs of working Floridians and continue working for special interests. I am encouraged that my short presence in this race has already brought attention to people, communities, and issues that are vital to change. I will continue to fight with our fellow candidates to ensure that change happens and will work with the Democratic Party to ensure that a strong Democratic candidate takes my place on the ballot.

“I extend my sincerest thanks to everyone who supported this campaign, and share our vision for SD-24, and Florida.”

Florida’s bizarre fireworks law still in place

It’s almost Independence Day, which in Florida means: Time to scare some birds.

Although you can buy fireworks in the state, they’re not actually legal here.

Indeed, The Tampa Tribune in 2014 called fireworks sales in Florida an “institutionalized charade,” leading one lawmaker to call for “more freedom (and) less fraud.”

Retail sales are allowed only because of a 62-year-old loophole in the law, the only known one of its kind in the country.

That allows “fireworks … to be used solely and exclusively in frightening birds from agricultural works and fish hatcheries.”

Indeed, anyone who’s bought fireworks from a roadside tent over the years may remember signing a form acknowledging the buyer falls under an agricultural, fisheries or other exemption.

For the record, fireworks can also be used for “signal purposes or illumination” of a railroad or quarry, “for signal or ceremonial purposes in athletics or sports, or for use by military organizations.”

Enforcement is up to local police and fire agencies, and case law says fireworks vendors aren’t responsible for verifying that buyers actually intend to chase off egrets or light up a track meet.

Every so often, lawmakers file bills either to remove or tighten certain exemptions, or to just legalize retail sales of fireworks. None have made it into law.

Only one state, Massachusetts, still has an outright ban on consumer fireworks, according to the American Pyrotechnic Association.

In Florida, former state Rep. Matt Gaetz once tried to legalize Roman candles, bottle rockets and other fireworks for recreational use. The Fort Walton Beach Republican is now a congressman.

State Sen. Jeff Brandes, a St. Petersburg Republican, pushed a similar bill prohibiting sales of fireworks and sparklers only to children under 16 and requiring other buyers to sign a disclaimer saying they know fireworks are dangerous.

Current law “does not promote public safety and should be repealed to simply allow fireworks to be sold,” he has said. “More freedom, less fraud.”

And last year, state Sen. Greg Steube, a Sarasota Republican, filed legislation to legalize consumer fireworks in Florida. It died in committee.

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Ed. Note – This story ran previously and has been re-published as a service to our readers.

Fresh polling: Jeff Brandes, Janet Cruz lead in battleground state Senate seats; Ed Hooper, Amanda Murphy deadlocked.

Poll numbers in two battleground state Senate seats have shifted significantly since last month, while a third race remains essentially deadlocked.

In SD 16, the seat previously held by Jack Latvala, Republican Ed Hooper and Democrat Amanda Murphy remain deadlocked, with Hooper at 45 percent and Murphy at 43 percent. The good news here for the GOP is that this race has shifted ever so slightly to Hooper.

At last check-in, Murphy led by less than a point. Murphy’s May lead and Hooper’s late June one fall well within St. Pete Polls’ margin of error of plus or minus 3 percentage points.

Like the previous poll, one in eight voters in the northern Pinellas and southwest Pasco district remains undecided. The shift over the past month came from Republican and Democratic voters coalescing around their party’s candidate — Hooper received 72 percent support from Republicans and 15 percent support from Democrats; Murphy received 74 percent support from Democrats and 15 percent support from Republicans.

Unaffiliated and third-party voters, who make up 30 percent of the SD 16 electorate, went plus-7 for Murphy with 14 percent undecided. White voters also favored Hooper, 47-42 percent, while Murphy carried minority voters by a substantial margin, though non-white, non-Hispanic voters only make up about 15 percent of the SD 16 electorate according to the district’s demographic profile.

Hooper holds a 5-point lead among men, while he and Murphy are tied among women. Voters aged 18 to 29 prefer Murphy by 4 points; the 30 to 49 years old bracket went for Hooper by 8 points; those aged 50 to 69 swung back toward Murphy, 45-43 percent; and voters over 70 went plus-6 for Hooper.

In SD 18, incumbent Republican Dana Young now trails Democrat Janet Cruz by a point after entering the candidate qualifying period with a nine-point lead. Of significance, since we last polled, Cruz clarified how her name will appear on the ballot, dropping her second last name, “Rifkin.”

The bounce back was expected for Cruz, who pulled just 62 percent support from Democratic voters in the May poll. The new results show an 8-point bump from her base, while Young saw her support among likely GOP voters dip from 75 percent to 72 percent.

Voters who are not a member of one of the major parties supported Cruz by a hefty 15-point margin. A month ago, those same voters gave Young a slim advantage. The poll also shows Young with a 2-point advantage among men, while Cruz holds a 3-point lead among women.

White voters still preferred Young, though the 46-43 percent split is a massive improvement for Cruz, who trailed by 15 points in the May poll. Cruz holds a near 50-point advantage among black voters, though she trails by 10 points among Hispanic voters, who make up 30 percent of SD 18’s electorate.

Cruz leads among younger voters 49-41 percent; Gen Xers favor Young 46-42 percent; the 50- to 69-year-old bracket went plus-4 for Cruz, 46-42 percent; and those 70 and up slightly favor Young, 43-41 percent.

Over in SD 24, incumbent Republican Jeff Brandes is still ahead of trial lawyer Carrie Pilon46 percent to 41 percent, which is down from the nine-point lead he held at the end of May, but still outside the margin of error.

Much like the poll SD 18, much of the change came from Pilon’s increased support among Democratic voters. She pulls 69 percent support from Democrats in the new poll, compared to 65 percent a month ago. Brandes, like Young, also saw a slight dip in GOP support.

The St. Pete Republican leads by 6 points among white voters, down from 12 points last month. He also saw his leads slip in three age groups, most notably among voters under 30, who prefer him 46-42 compared to the 59-26 margin he enjoyed in the previous poll. Voters aged 50 to 69 flipped from plus-2 Brandes to plus-3 Pilon, while older voters went from plus-22 Brandes to plus-6 Brandes.

His lead among 30- to 49-year-old voters, however, expanded to 52-35.

All three robopolls were conducted over this past weekend and only include responses from those voters who said they intend to vote in the November elections.

The races for Senate Districts 16, 18, and 24 will likely decide the course, if not control, of the Florida Senate as the Democrats have identified the three seats as a package of five to six they are targeting in the 2018 election cycle, the others being Gainesville-based SD 8, Lakeland-based SD 22 and Miami-Dade-based SD 36.

Republicans currently hold a 23-16 advantage in the Florida Senate, with SD 16 currently vacant.

Carrie Pilon craters in SD 24 money race

Florida Democrats say Senate District 24 is one of their top targets in the fall, but it sure doesn’t feel like it.

Democratic candidate Carrie Pilon narrowly outraised incumbent Republican Sen. Jeff Brandes in April, but followed that up with an underwhelming performance in May. Her newest report, which covers the first three weeks of June, is more than underwhelming — it’s abysmal.

The St. Petersburg trial lawyer showed just $6,730 in hard money fundraising and tacked on another $3,000 through her political committee, Moving Pinellas Forward. Her burn rate was similarly small, which would only be a good thing if the election was a year or more away. But it’s not.

As it stands, Pilon has raised about $141,000 between her campaign and committee and has about $131,000 banked.

Brandes, meanwhile, kept trucking along with another $68,000 in fundraising. That brings him near the $1.4 million mark for the 2018 cycle to date. He has $728,500 in the bank between his campaign and his political committee, Liberty Florida.

The Pilon campaign pointed to past election results when it made the case for her candidacy, and while it’s true Barack Obama carried the district in both of his presidential elections, it’s hard to see a path to victory for a candidate being outraised ten to one.

SD 24 covers most of southern Pinellas County. The GOP has a 4-point advantage in voter registrations within the district, which voted plus-7 for Donald Trump in 2016.

Both candidates are unopposed in their primaries. The general election is Nov. 6.

Reconciliation

Last week, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that police generally need a search warrant if they want to track criminal suspects’ movements by collecting information about where they’ve used their cellphones.

Republican state Sen. Jeff Brandes may not have been the first Florida lawmaker to raise concerns about that issue, but he has probably been the loudest.

In 2013, in the face of staunch opposition from law enforcement, he sponsored legislation that would have prevented warrantless cellphone searches.

Privacy in an age of boundless technological innovation is one of a barrage of issues of which Brandes is on the forefront:

— He was talking about ride-sharing before many of his colleagues knew how to pronounce Uber.

— He’s the lawmaker who paved the way for autonomous vehicle testing in Florida.

— He’s been one of the leading proponents in the Senate for the expansion of medical marijuana and the reforming of the criminal justice system.

It’s on issues like those last two which have often left Brandes with fewer allies than he would like. Then again, PolitiFact in 2011 described him as the most independent member of the Florida Legislature, at least if you go by the voting records.

Because of his forward-thinking (among several other reasons), I’ve been proud – no, make that excited – to work for Brandes’ political operation. I broke with many other progressives to support his insurgent bid in 2010 against Democrat Bill Heller, himself a good man and thoughtful lawmaker.

This November, Brandes faces a challenge from a very intelligent, exceedingly friendly challenger, Carrie Pilon, whom I’ve known since she was the president of our high school’s student government. The voters of Senate District 24 are genuinely blessed to have two competent candidates.

In any other election cycle, Team Brandes would not be very worried by the threat posed by Pilon. She’s a first-time candidate with probably a tenth of the resources Brandes has to run his campaign.

Just as he did against another smart, capable Democrat (Judithanne McLaughlin), Brandes would simply overwhelm her in a district that leans ever so slightly to the right.

But this is no ordinary election cycle. In fact, it has the possibility to be the most extraordinary non-presidential election cycle of the last 30 years. That’s because it is, simply, the Cycle of Trump.

Since Trump was elected in 2016, there has been one election after another won by Florida Democrats. If you need evidence that a blue wave is forming in Florida politics, look no further than last week. That’s when a white Democrat defeated a Cuban Republican for the Miami-Dade County Commission seat that represents – wait for it – Little Havana.

Unfortunately, if a blue wave does sweep through Florida politics, it will wipe away sensible Republicans like Brandes, U.S. Rep. Carlos Curbelo, and/or state Sen. Dana Young.

What a blue wave is unlikely to do is take out the far-right, fire-breathing Republicans who have transformed the GOP into a party that looks nothing like ‘the party of Lincoln.’

Meanwhile, moderating forces of the Republican Party are heading for the hills.

Last week, the brilliant strategist Steve Schmidt announced he is becoming an independent and is urging others to vote Democrat.

Also conservative columnist George Will suggested that voters should punish Paul Ryan‘s colleagues in the U.S. House by giving control to the Democrats.

I am a registered Republican. Not because of philosophy but because, in Pinellas County, Florida, the only real action in the primaries has been on the GOP side. Democrats have been unable to slate an entire ballot much less recruit enough candidates to enjoy competitive primaries.

For the last ten years, I’ve waged war for Brandes and many, many others against the forces of the far-right. At some point or another, we all delude ourselves into believing we are Robert Jordan.

If there were any time to leave the Republican Party, now — in this era of Trump — now would be the time. Most people probably assume I’m a Democrat anyway.

But I ain’t leavin’.

If there ever were a time for common-sense Republicans to fight for the soul of their party, it’s now. Don’t just abandon it to the #MAGA crowd.

That’s why it’s critical to support Republicans who 1) genuinely believe in limited government, and 2) are running in vulnerable seats susceptible to the blue wave.

A vote for Curbelo or Mario Diaz-Balart or Brandes or Rob Bradley or dozens of other main street Republicans is not a vote for or against Donald Trump. It’s a vote to make sure there’s still a party left after he’s long gone.

Florida Democrats say ‘no GOP seat is safe’ in 2018

A record number Democratic candidates qualified for state races this week, and the Florida Democratic Party said now it’s time to prepare for the “Blue Wave.”

“From the Gubernatorial race, to State House and Senate, to county commissioners and mayors, we have the most qualified, committed, and exciting group of candidates we have ever seen,” said FDP Chair Terrie Rizzo.

“We have a record number of people who have stepped up to run, and what this shows us is that no GOP seat is safe. After nearly 20-years of all-Republican rule, Floridians are fed-up with economic policies that don’t benefit working families, they are tired of their children’s education being shortchanged, and they are tired of leaders who have failed to take action on everything from gun violence prevention to climate change.”

Rizzo also touted a record-breaking 82 Democratic women making the ballot for state legislative races.

“Women will be the difference in 2018, I do truly believe that. They are instrumental to the success of the Democratic Party, and they feel more empowered than ever to take their future into their own hands by running for office,” she said.

It’s too early to tell whether Democrats can crack the GOP’s hold on state government by flipping the Governor’s Mansion, or possibly even the state Senate, but now that the title cards are set it’s clear heretofore underdogs’ strategy is more reminiscent of Rocky than Glass Joe.

Republicans currently hold a 23-16 advantage in Florida Senate, with one vacancy. Democrats plan to take the chamber back has been clear for months — flip Tampa Bay and field fresh, credible challengers in Gainesville-based SD 8, Lakeland-based SD 22 and Miami-Dade-based SD 36. Win five, win the Senate.

On the Tampa Bay front, Democrats have recruited House Minority Leader Janet Cruz to challenge Republican Sen. Dana Young in SD 18; former Democratic Rep. Amanda Murphy to take on former Republican Rep. Ed Hooper in SD 16, and trial attorney Carrie Pilon to challenge St. Petersburg Republican Sen. Jeff Brandes in SD 24. None of those races will be easy, but the 2018 crop of candidates is certainly more competitive than in 2016.

In SD 8, the party likes its odds with Kayser Enneking, and she’s done her part by pulling in a respectable amount of cash for her campaign. Incumbent Republican Sen. Keith Perry still leads her in fundraising, but not by near the margin found in the Tampa races.

The fundraising gap and Republican lean is more significant in SD 22, where former circuit court judge Bob Doyel is challenging Lakeland Republican Sen. Kelli Stargel. He’s a much more formidable opponent however than the 2016 Democratic nominee, Debra Wright, who to her credit still came within 7 points despite being outspent 20-to-1.

Time will tell on David Perez’ bid against Republican Rep. Manny Diaz in SD 36. Diaz is a popular and very well-funded, and Perez has only been in the race for a couple of weeks.

While the Senate roadmap is known, Florida Democrats have been less direct about their overall strategy to chip away at the GOP’s sizable majority in the House.

Republicans currently have a stranglehold on the chamber, which is split 76-41 with three vacancies. Two of those empty seats are Republican locks, and the third was a gimme for Democrats — congrats to Boynton Beach Democrat Joseph Casello, who was elected to HD 90 without opposition Friday.

At 42 seats, the party is still a dozen from the number that went for Hillary Clinton in 2016, and in 2018 the strategy in the lower chamber reflects a familiar adage: “You must be present to win.”

To that end, Democrats are fielding a candidate in over 100 districts, a marked increase from the 63 Democrats who took a shot in 2016. And it’s not all quantity over quality — a cursory glance the 95 House races that weren’t decided Friday jogs the memory on some of the strong candidates running under the Democratic Party banner.

In Orlando’s HD 47, Anna Eskamani has strong odds to flip the seat vacated by Republican Rep. Mike Miller. In Broward-based HD 93, Emma Collum has a genuine chance to succeed term-limited Republican Rep. George Moraitis. And in perennial target HD 63, Fentrice Driskell is raising cash and landing endorsements as she aims to unseat Tampa Republican Rep. Shawn Harrison.

Even in some districts previously thought of as moonshots, some real-deal candidates have shown up and gotten to work. In Sarasota’s HD 74, for instance, Tony Mowry is confident he can hand James Buchanan his second defeat of the year in a traditionally Republican seat. Tracye Polson is matching her GOP opponents in fundraising in her bid to flip HD 15, the seat vacated by Jacksonville Republican Rep. Jay Fant.

#8 on list of Tampa Bay’s Most Powerful Politicians — Jeff Brandes

The Republican state Senator from St. Petersburg fell a few slots this year. That’s not to say Jeff Brandes doesn’t have the juice he did in prior years.

And like in previous years, he had a busy 2018 Session. He sponsored some 65 bills and co-sponsored dozens more. He sat on seven committees, including as chair of the Appropriations Subcommittee on Criminal and Civil Justice.

He did have a couple of legislative losses, including on measures aimed at overhauling transportation as well as criminal justice reform. Among his wins: a law that bars state and local government agencies from doing with business with companies that boycott Israel, a measure protecting consumers from having to pay security fees on credit reports and a bill reducing the minimum age of corrections officers from 19 to 18 to help meet staffing demands.

Over the years, Brandes has earned a reputation for being a maverick who’s ahead of his time on everything from criminal justice to transportation. He was an early backer for ride-share technology and is a major proponent of incorporating driverless electric vehicles into the state’s public transit infrastructure.

“Sen. Brandes is a visionary, and he’s carved a powerful pathway as Florida’s thought leader on advanced technology,” said Southern Strategy Group’s Seth McKeel.

Brandes’ Senate District 24, covers most of southern Pinellas County, save for a large swath of south St. Petersburg, which is part of Democratic Sen. Darryl Rouson’s district. It was a seat newly redrawn in 2012; Brandes left the state House seat he won in 2010 to launch his successful bid for it. In 2014, he bested Democratic opponent Judithanne McLauchlan by four points, and he had no significant opposition in 2016.

This year is different, though. Brandes has a potentially strong opponent in St. Petersburg attorney Carrie Pilon, a Democrat whose husband is the son of former State Rep. Ray Pilon, a Republican.

Recent polling suggests an early lead for Brandes over his Pilon, but it’s still early, and there’s no accounting for what kind of impact the blue wave can have in a district like the HD 24.

A key advantage for Brandes is his access to seemingly boundless volumes of cash via his campaign coffers as well as his PAC, Liberty Florida.

Brandes came in fifth in 2017.

For a complete explanation of how this list was created and who made up the panel that amassed it, please read here.

Jeff Brandes adds $187K for re-election, Carrie Pilon sputters

St. Petersburg Republican Jeff Brandes recorded another six-figure haul in his Senate District 24 re-election bid, while Democratic challenger Carrie Pilon saw a massive drop-off in fundraising in only her second month on the trail.

In a Monday press release, the Brandes campaign celebrated raising nearly $187,000 in May, the third month in a row recording a six-figure haul.

“I am truly grateful for the amount of support our campaign continues to receive each and every day,” Brandes said in a press release. “It’s a testament to the level of excitement for our message and what we want to accomplish for our community and our state. I look forward to continuing to take our message to the voters.”

The Pilon campaign stayed quiet about their comparatively meager haul, a stark change from a month ago when the first-time candidate and her team were loud and proud about their slim April fundraising win.

The trial lawyer indeed outraised Brandes by a few thousand dollars in her inaugurals, but her May reports measure in at a quarter the size of her April ones — $26,680 for her campaign and zilch for her committee, Moving Pinellas Forward.

That brings Pilon to about $131,000 raised and $124,000 on hand 60 days into her campaign.

Brandes’ campaign report wasn’t viewable via the Florida Division of Elections Monday afternoon, though his committee, Liberty Florida, reported receiving $143,000 in its new report.

Heritage Property & Casualty Insurance Company topped the committee report with a $25,000 check. The Florida Chamber of Commerce showed up with a $15,000 check, followed by Duke Energy and Senate Majority Leader Wilton Simpson’s Jobs for Florida political committee at $10,000 apiece.

Brandes’ release didn’t mention his overall on hand total. However, Liberty Florida entered June with $237,743 in the bank. By the end of April, the campaign account had $457,782 on hand.

On April 30, Brandes had $568,000 on hand compared to $102,000 for Pilon. Depending on how much his campaign spent, that $450,000-plus cash advantage could balloon well past $600,000.

‘Leave us the heck alone’: Beach towns seek meeting with state lawmakers on short-term rentals

The mayors of Pinellas County’s beach communities want to find a way to reclaim their power to restrict short-term rentals in their towns. The first step will be to organize a roundtable discussion involving state legislators and others involved in the short-term rental business.

The mayors who make up the Big-C, the Barrier Islands Government Council, have been railing against the state law that prevents them from having any say in how long or how often a person can rent his or her property in a residential area.

The mayors related story after story of neighbors upset with loud parties, parking problems and strangers wandering around all hours of the night. They want to be able to stop it but Florida law won’t let them.

Also at issue is Senate Bill 1400, sponsored in part by Sen. Jeff Brandes, R-St. Petersburg. That bill may come before the next sitting of the Legislature.

Brandes, according to the mayors at the Big-C meeting on May 30, has not shown any inclination to back away from the state having control over the municipalities regarding the rentals.

Bill Queen, the mayor of North Redington Beach, said he met with Brandes recently and the senator stuck with the stance he has mentioned in the past.

“He said property rights must be protected and they are residential in nature,” said Queen. “That means in residential neighborhoods.”

Queen also quoted Brandes as saying the grandfather clause can’t go on forever.

The grandfather clause relates to 2011 when the first piece of legislation was passed limiting municipalities’ rights to restrict short-term rentals. From that point on towns could not pass local ordinances which limited the frequency or number of times residents could rent their property. Local laws already on the books would be “grandfathered” in.

In a letter he wrote outlining his stand against short-term rentals, Queen spoke of the negative issues that arise when the rentals cannot be restricted.

“Noise, traffic, parking, garbage and safety,” he wrote. “All of these issues would be handled by local law enforcement. However, unlike a permanent resident that can be communicated with on a continuing basis the weekly or nightly turnover of people would cause repeated violations of the same offenses.”

“Opening up the residential neighborhoods to these issues is counterproductive to the peace, serenity and safety that we currently enjoy in our homes; all things that are not for sale for any amount of tax revenue as touted by the proponents of these bills,” he wrote.

Queen concluded his letter by suggesting the solutions to the problem would be the elimination of the 2011 legislation and the election of state representatives most sympathetic to their cause.

Indian Rocks Beach Mayor Cookie Kennedy added to the discussion by saying there is no middle ground on the issue.

“You can’t be in the middle,” she said. “Short-term rentals pit neighbor against neighbor. We want respect and it doesn’t happen with this. People are having parties all the time.”

Kennedy suggested having a roundtable discussion, which would bring together all the players in the issue.

Clearwater Mayor George Cretekos threw a note of caution into the discussion.

“We have to take the emotion out of it,” he said. “We need to talk to our legislators and get them to understand what we’re talking about.”

Queen replied that after meeting with the legislators several times nothing has changed.

“We don’t seem to be getting anywhere,” he said.

“We have to stop throwing stones at them and take the emotion out,” replied Cretekos. “We’re saying the same thing just from a different perspective.”

Kennedy reiterated her desire to have a roundtable discussion and said the beach towns have to enlist allies in their fight.

“The county has a piece in this too and they have said they will revisit their laws,” she said. “We need to branch out and get other towns involved; there is strength in numbers.”

St. Pete Beach Mayor Alan Johnson summed up his feelings in one sentence.

“Leave us the heck alone.”

Johnson told a story of a single woman who was afraid to leave her house at night because of rowdy parties going on next door.

“We have varying degrees of the problem going on all over,” he said.

Brandes was not at the meeting but his representative was.

Melissa Meshil, his legislative assistant, told the group that Brandes wants to get involved with the mayors.

“He wants to advance the discussion,” she said. “There is no pathway to repealing the 2011 law but he wants to hear solutions.”

Further discussion on the issue from the audience included the difficulty of enforcing any regulations that may be on the books.

“Often renters are instructed to say they are friends of the owners,” said Cretekos.

State Rep. Kathleen Peters, R-Treasure Island, commented that the issue won’t stop here.

“They want to take away the nuisance laws, and they might encroach on condo bylaws,” Peters said.

In the end, the mayors voted unanimously to hold a roundtable discussion in Indian Shores with the date to be determined.

Solar-as-a-service coming to Sunshine State

Floridians who want solar panels on their rooftop but are skittish about the cost will soon have an option: Sunrun.

The solar-as-a-service biz is coming to the Sunshine State this summer with plans allowing customers to start generating their own electricity for as little as $0 upfront.

And thanks to the company’s home battery, “Brightbox,” that power can be used rain or shine — a convenient option during hurricane season, no doubt, and much cleaner and less noisy than your typical backup generator.

“Freedom is a value Americans hold dear. In offering Floridians solar-as-a-service, households in the Sunshine State are given the freedom to make, control, and store their own energy,” said Sunrun CEO Lynn Jurich. “Unfortunately, too many Floridians have experienced firsthand the effects of extreme weather and power outages.

“Home solar and batteries provide peace of mind and backup power when disaster strikes, keeping food fresh and the lights on.

“Affordable and resilient, home solar also contributes to a healthier environment for households and communities across the state. Home solar is already playing a major role in America’s future energy system, and Sunrun is thrilled to lead the industry as Florida embraces this technology.”

The company is rolling out its service to Central Florida and Tampa Bay residents first — if it says TECO, Duke or OUC on your bill, you’re in luck — with plans to expand service to the rest of the state shortly.

Lawmakers from the region heralded the company’s arrival, with Orlando Sen. Linda Stewart saying the company “will give Central Florida residents greater access clean energy choices, lower energy costs, and continued momentum for local job growth in our state’s renewable energy market. This is the Sunshine State and Floridians should be able to take full advantage of an abundant, emissions-free energy source that contributes to a healthier community while remaining affordable.”

St. Pete Sen. Jeff Brandes added, “As an advocate for consumer choice, I am excited to see new options for Floridians that will make solar more affordable and accessible to residents across the state. With our population projected to grow by five million people by 2030, the time for Floridians to invest in energy diversity is now.”

Those interested in the service can check out the available plans on Sunrun’s website, and those in the initial service area ready to make the plunge can give the company a call at 1-888-GoSolar.

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